Think back to the beginning of your relationship and you’ll likely remember carefree days, romantic walks at sunset and evenings spent sharing your life story. And nights when the sex was… well… more frequent than it is these days.
Where did that romance go? That close bond? That mutual lust?
You’re not alone. Many of the people we speak to report reduced levels of intimacy with their long-term partner. It’s not uncommon, but it’s also not something you have to accept as ‘the norm’ if you don’t want to.
Intimacy is a vital part of romantic relationships, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. When you are truly intimate with someone you can relax and be yourself, without worrying about hiding aspects of your behavior. Greater levels of intimacy help to build trust and compassion, opening the lines of communication and developing empathy between partners.
Crucially, intimacy is not just about sex. In fact, the physical act of intercourse plays only a small part. True intimacy is fostered by connection, the sharing of emotions – of joy, fears and anxieties. The opening up to ask for and give help to one another. And the understanding that as a partnership you are also a team; you’re in it together.
But this kind of emotional intimacy is not a given. It is often the case in long-term relationships that, as things progress, intimacy takes a back seat. This might be due to changing priorities and the navigation of different stages of life. We might get stuck in the daily grind. From new jobs to new children to ageing parents, life can become a complicated juggling act that takes both brain space and time. We might become complacent, ‘fire-fighting’ day to day problems rather than truly considering the needs of our partner. We might literally just not have time for one another; not prioritize quality time together. And while this situation may feel ‘comfortable’ to some, to others it can be anxiety inducing, leading to feelings of insecurity and rejection.
Are you looking to increase physical intimacy and improve your sex life? Or are you struggling with a feeling of boredom and you want to get out of your relationship rut? Small acts of spontaneity might go a surprisingly long way to rekindling the closeness you once felt.
One of the best ways to reestablish a lost connection is by introducing small, thoughtful acts into everyday life. Imagine opening your packed lunch in the office and finding a love note inside. Or getting home from a long commute to find your loved one has run you a bubble bath with candles. Perhaps your spouse unexpectedly takes the kids out for a couple of hours to give you a break. Or maybe you pick up a bunch of beautiful flowers to take home for your partner.
These little surprises say,“I’ve been thinking of you”, "I care about you", “I want to make you happy”. And they open up the pathways to real emotional connection.
Healthy relationships require effort. That means that from time to time we need to prioritize our partner over everything else. What's more, we need to frequently give our partner our full attention. That might feel difficult in this day and age with so many distractions, and with kids seemingly attached to our ankles. But while we can plan a date night two weeks next Tuesday, isn’t it nicer to whisk your partner out for a quick lunch in the middle of the working day? Or to enlist the electronic babysitter, pour a glass of wine and spend 15 minutes debriefing?
Unfortunately, as intimacy declines, a vicious circle often begins. We get out of the habit of touch, we become less familiar with each other and even become anxious about our own body image. Feelings of rejection and resentment might begin to creep in. Simply introducing spontaneous moments of touch into our lives can help to undo this spiral. Hold hands with your partner as you stroll down the street, touch their knee as you make eye contact and laugh at a joke. Crucially, ensure you kiss goodbye and hello. These moments don’t need to be about sexual touch if that feels difficult. They can simply be about intimate connection and affection.
They say laughter is the best medicine, don’t they? And with relationships it really is true. So think back. Has the fun been lost among the responsibilities, or do you still find yourselves belly laughing together like you used to? Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. It doesn’t have to be jumping out of a plane or moving to a new country. But why not go to the ballet? Try an Escape Room? Rope in the grandparents and book a night away in a treehouse? It doesn’t have to be crazy or even expensive. Just something to help you reconnect, create new memories and get comfortable around one another again. And if your partner suggests you try something new? Just say ‘yes’ rather than thinking of all the reasons you shouldn’t. You might just enjoy it.
But as any relationship expert will tell you, spontaneity might not always be the answer. If you’ve noticed that you’re having sex less often than you would like to or your partner seems to be avoiding physical contact, there might be something more than ‘boredom’ and ‘habit’ at play.
If the lack of intimacy is becoming an issue, talk to your partner about their thoughts and what they would like to see happening. And explore the possibility that there could be physical problems they’ve been unwilling to discuss or perhaps have not acknowledged themselves. Do they experience pain during intercourse that’s putting them off sex, or are they struggling with performance anxiety and worried they’ll disappoint you?
Talking to your partner about sex can be difficult if it’s something you’re not used to doing. But opening up to one another, offering empathy and working through any problems together can be incredibly empowering. And reassure them that Sexual Desire Discrepancy (SDD) is incredibly common. It occurs when two partners don’t share the same levels of sex drive or libido. In fact, research shows that up to 80% of couples regularly experience situations where one partner wants to have sex and the other doesn’t.(1). It might be due to a physical problem, a psychological problem or even the lasting impact of a previous abusive relationship. Whatever the reason, the good news is there are plenty of things you can try to reignite your sexual relationship. With communication, time, patience and perhaps a little advice and guidance, we’re confident there’s a way through any rough patch.
Sensate focus, is one of the most effective techniques used in sex therapy all over the world. It was designed to help reduce sexual anxiety by focusing your attention only on the sensations that you notice in your body. Like sexual mindfulness. Sensate focus techniques help you to focus on the moment and to really notice the sensations of, for example, temperature, pressure, and texture. It encourages you to stop overthinking and allow your body to respond naturally helping you to connect more deeply with your partner.
If you don’t feel ready to speak to a sex therapist face to face, why not try the Blueheart app, designed using sensate focus principles? Just a quick assessment and you’ll be well on your way to less-stress-sex and who knows – perhaps more spontaneity will creep in as a result!